“If I can persuade Al Sharpton and Bill O’Reilly to come to the same meeting, there are plenty of people of good faith to get something done,” President Barack Obama said in the White House’s East Room yesterday.
The often-dueling talk-show hosts joined basketball star-turned-businessman Magic Johnson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the roll-out of “My Brother’s Keeper,” a program Obama is promoting for young men of color.
Modeled after New York City’s “Young Men’s Initiative,” the effort will direct some $200 million in private sector investment into research strategies to keep boys in poor neighborhoods in school and off the streets.
Obama was introduced by Christian Champagne, a senior at Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago. Last year, the president stopped by his “Becoming a Man” group and learned how the organization is helping at-risk youth.
“I could see myself in these young men,” Obama recalled. “I didn’t have a dad in the house.”
He explained that fatherless children, like those in one of every two African-American households today, are more likely to be poor, underperform in school and end up behind bars.
Obama said that while his mother, grandparents and teachers helped put him on the right path, most young African-Americans and Latinos today are not as lucky.
“We become numb to these statistics,” he said. “We take them as the norm, instead of the outrage that it is. These statistics should break our hearts.”
Earlier in the day, first lady Michelle Obama was in the East Room touting a cause close to her heart: healthy eating.
“I’ll wear my flat shoes for you,” she told Rachael Ray, the petite cooking-show star who joined her and Secretary of Health and Human Service Kathleen Sebelius.
As part of her “Let’s Move initiative,” the first lady said the Food and Drug Administration will make food labels easier to understand.
“The new label will allow you to immediately spot the calorie count because it will be in large font, and not buried in fine print,” she said. “You’ll also learn more about where the sugar in the food comes from.”
On Wednesday night, Kweku Mandela sounded like his grandfather, the late South African president Nelson Mandela.
“If the United States is separated by red and blue, then what chance can the rest of the world have of finding peace?” he asked at a reception in his honor hosted by Vic Seested, a senior vice president of wealth management at UBS.
Mandela, 29, was in town for the screening of “Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness,” a documentary shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Next up, expect a program on BET from the young Mandela, who shrugged off suggestions of a future in politics: “I think we’re all political in some ways, but my passion is film.”
The night before, some members of Congress took a break from Capitol Hill to escape to Hollywood -- sort of.
Senate Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah worked the red carpet at a fundraiser where guests could screen their favorite Oscar-nominated film of the year.
The event raised $500,000 for Tracy’s Kids, a pediatric cancer program that helps patients through art therapy.
Leahy said he wanted to see “Philomena,” but had to pass because it wasn’t the right fit for his date for the evening, his 11-year-old granddaughter, Francesca.
Heitkamp was given the Tracy’s Kids Courage Award for her advocacy of research for breast cancer, which she has survived.